Quality Project Based Learning = Deeper Learning

High quality project based learning learners work to solve real life challenges.

Examples of high quality project based learning topics:

To contribute to downtown revitalization efforts, students conducted a study of their town, reading primary sources and interviewing town officials and citizens. They created videos highlighting their town’s points of interest, which were presented on their district’s website; and with podcasts they created a walking tour of downtown.

Learners wanted to create a classroom of respect and kindness. They listened to and read stories about treating others well. They read a newspaper article about a woman who was bullied, they invited her to their class, and interviewed her with questions they readied and follow-up questions. Based on their research the students constructed booklets about respect and kindness for their class community and created a classroom list of actions to take. They presented their booklets and list to their school principal and parents.

Students in the role of medical interns worked to help diagnose a real patient’s illness. They studied body systems, using Skype they learned from a doctor, interviewed the patient, and presented their findings and conclusions to an audience that included the patient and the doctor.

A school’s courtyard was to be re-designed and students helped by contributing plans for the new design. They interviewed architects and researched parks and other schools’ outdoor spaces. Using math and design principles, they created sketches, scaled drawings, and three dimensional models, which were exhibited to an audience that included the architects who would be planning the school’s new space.

Role-playing American colonists, students created plans for a thriving colony. Learners read about features of successful colonies. They interviewed a colonial history museum  educator. They viewed videos of colonial life. They presented their findings on a website and to a live audience that included the museum educator and parents/guardians.

In quality project based learning students’ inquiry is central. The unit has structure. Scaffolding is provided throughout, as needed. Students experience deeper learning – they master core academic content, strengthen literacy skills, and persevere. They use critical thinking, communications, creativity, and collaboration. They develop a sense of agency, realizing that – YES – they can be a positive force in the world. They become capable of applying learning to new situations.

American Institutes for Research (2016) compared students engaged in project-based learning with similar students who learn in lecture/discussion and other non-applied learning. The students who learn with project-based learning have better outcomes with:

. Standardized achievement tests
. Interpersonal and intrapersonal skills
. Graduating high school and within four years of beginning

Studies (for example, Wirkula & Kuhn, 2011) find when learners are involved in challenge-solving projects, their understanding is deeper and they remember what they learn longer than with traditional instruction. When students’ projects help others substantial social-emotional gains result (Billig, 2000).

With high quality project-based, students are intrinsically motivated and their sense of self-efficacy and agency are increased, positively affecting stronger engagement with learning and greater achievement.


American Institutes for Research. (2016, August). Does deeper learning improve student outcomes? Results from the study of deeper learning: Opportunities and outcomes. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/Deeper-Learning-Summary-Updated-August-2016.pdf

Billig, S. (2000, May). Research on K-12 school-based service learning: The evidence builds. Phi Delta Kappan, 81(9), 658-64. http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=slcek12

Wirkula, C. & Kuhn, D. (2011). Problem-based learning in K-12 education: Is it effective and how does it achieve its effects? American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), 1157-118. http://incubatorisland.com/HTMLobj-300/Wirkala_and_Kuhn.pdf

Copyright © 2017 Lee Anna Stirling